Localman flying high

Published on Thu, Jun 23, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Local man flying high

By Jack Kintner

“Aviation has always been my passion,” said Blaine native Jeff Geer. At 46, he’s found a way to make his passion pay off as he enters his second year running Bellingham Aviation Services (BAS). Beginning with the aircraft fueling concession at the Bellingham airport, he’s managed to build it into a full-service aviation facility that now includes a flight school, aircraft rental, airframe and engine repair and one of the only FAA-certified aircraft radio shops in the area.

Since he operates BAS from a fixed location, in this case the general aviation terminal at the Bellingham airport, his business is referred to in flying circles by the initials FBO for “fixed base operation.” Geer’s business achievement lies in being able to operate successfully in a location where many predecessors have failed.

In the 1980s the airport’s owner, the Port of Bellingham, began extensive upgrading of runway and ground facilities in an attempt to draw major airline and business jet traffic. Though this was somewhat successful, the next 20 years also saw all the other airport businesses that served general aviation fail, including several flight schools and charter operators, several restaurants, at least one independent mechanic and an electronics sales and repair business.

But Geer, having heard all the stories, says only that thus far he’s found the Port of Bellingham to be pleasant and supportive. “They put out a request for proposal (RFP) for a full-service FBO early in 2003, and chose our application, so we began in January of 2004 and it’s been pretty smooth since then. BAS is getting along fine, and has no complaints.”

A second FBO, Bellingham Aero, started at the same time in a hangar a few blocks south of Geer at 4121 Mitchell Way, and offers flight instruction, fuel and air taxi but no maintenance or other services. In addition, Bellingham is served by Horizon Air, Island Air, Allegiant and San Juan Airlines. Bellingham’s only major carrier, Delta Airlines, plans to begin Bellingham to Salt Lake City service in six months, according to Geer.

A 1977 Blaine high school graduate, Geer parlayed a degree in electronics from Bellingham Technical College into a career as a telecommunications engineer, joined Alpha Tech Communications in 1985 working at their large facility near the Bellingham airport. At the time he began taking lessons at Cascade Flight School, no longer in business.

“I really began flying in Blaine, though,” said Geer, referring to flights he and his father Gordy used to make to Victoria to look at horses with former Blaine FBO Don Nelson. “My parents, Gordy and June Geer, started Blue Note Stables on Blaine Road, raising and racing thoroughbreds,” he said, adding that he rode himself “but always Western. Geer and his wife Michele’s daughter Heather, 23, has ridden competitively since she was nine and plans to return to competitive riding (dressage and jumping) once she finishes college at Western Washington University. “She’s in South Dakota right now, looking for a new horse,” Geer said.

He well remembers battles in the late 1980s to close down the Blaine airport, something he said “would have been a big mistake, because of the economic potential it represents.” He says he still feels this way even though he now competes with Blaine for fuel sales.

Geer said that he recently had “an Interesting conversation with Martin Ranck, the president of the Blaine chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). I’m joining and will support it because the old restored planes are an ideal attraction for a small airport. For example, he said they gave a lot of rides at the Appreciation Day a couple of weeks ago.”
According to local pilot Bob Brunkow, he and other pilots “took 90 kids for rides and have a waiting list of an additional 50 that we’ll get to in the next couple of weeks.”

In 1990 Geer ended 10 years as a volunteer firefighter when he and Michele moved to Ferndale. Five years later he left Alpha-Tech and in 1998 he began a telecommunications and electronics consulting business called GFR Technical Services which he says is “still alive” even though most of his time is now taken up with BAS.

Bellingham Aviation Services grew from six to 13 employees this spring with more on the way as his avionics shop, engine and airframe repair and aircraft rental services expand. He recently hired former Alpha-Tech colleague and furloughed American Airlines pilot Marty Harris to run his flight school. “Come by for an introductory lesson,” he said, “it’s only $49 and we’ll even let you steer.”